Day 18 - September 19th 2004

Byrness to Kirk Yetholm - 26 miles


This was the “Last Day” and a very long one indeed. As to be expected, did not sleep as well as I would have liked last night. I was really “wired” with expectation. I might have slept six and a half hours total and was finally awakened by noises from an adjoining room where two walkers we met yesterday were staying. They were crossing the Cheviots today as well. A quick breakfast put out by the hotel owner for us early risers and I used the remains of yesterday’s lunch for today. Both right ankle and left achilles tendon are painful but better than yesterday. Hope they hold out for the traverse of the Cheviots. As I was leaving, the two from yesterday came in for their breakfast. They are tough walkers. Out the door and up the road where I met the lads and off we went. Lonely Planet’s Walking in Britain calls this day “a cruel sting in the tail for Pennine Way walkers” and they got it right.

The first pull, up Byrness Hill, is as advertised; steep and quite muddy. Fortunately it is not too long. The weather was clear but cool and a wind was building. That was something to plague us the entire day as were the bogs. Except for the mud, it was pretty easy going until the drop down to Chew Green. Somehow on the downhill uneven path I stepped wrong and jammed my right foot. Lots of pain but nothing to do but keep walking with Brian a hundred yards in front, leading the way.

From this point on, it was a long and steady grind, up and down but essentially on the Border Ridge. The two walkers who spent the night in the Byrness Hotel passed us after a couple of hours. They were about fifty yards in front of us, hopping from one less boggy area to another, just like us, when one of the walkers suddenly missed his hop. It was an amazing sight; suddenly on one side he was almost hip deep in a bog. Fortunately he was close enough to the border fence to grab it and pull himself out. Later, Brian asked if I had seen that incident as we both could not believe how deep in the bog the man had gone.

Somewhere, shortly after this, I almost impaled a female fell runner on one of my trekking poles. I was trudging up a hill, looking down when suddenly I heard a crashing noise in front of me. I instinctively put up one of my poles while looking up. Fortunately, the runner who was coming down the hill and was very close was far enough away for me to redirect the pole from her midsection. I yelled for her to shout a warning but she was off around me and gone.

I ran into Steve at the summit of Windy Gyle where he was sheltered in the stones. Brian had passed him but they had not seen each other. The wind was fierce, as it was all day and it was good to be sheltered for a bit. I estimated the wind’s force to be about 40 mph and it was almost constantly just off the port side which meant that we were walking almost directly into it. Later I thought I had overestimated the wind’s strength but Brian thought 40 mph was accurate. In any case, that wind was definitely a force to be reckoned with, what with absolutely nothing to break its impact.

We three finally linked up just beyond Clennell Street and walked together the rest of the way. The book describes this part of the day’s walk as embracing “some of the best scenery but the worst walking conditions in the Cheviots, and the traverse of the highest ground can be gruelling.” Well, that is an apt description. The climb up to Cairn Hill was fairly steep and quite boggy with the resulting hopping and jumping to avoid disappearing in the mud.

From the top it was an easy stroll down to Auchope Cairn. We had talked earlier and had decided to give the summit of the Cheviot a pass. The path up and back (one and the same) was described as boggy and the summit view was stated to be just that, a view of the summit. In any case, from Auchope Cairn, the long downhill to the second mountain refuge hut was the worst part of the day for me. It was steep and then steeper and the path was boggy, very uneven and rocky. It was a real relief to get to the hut, not only to get off that down slope but to get out of the gale force wind, still blowing just off to the left from straight ahead. Lunch was a brief repast and then onward and upward to the top of the Schill, the last summit before the long and rather easy downhill to Kirk Yetholm. After I returned I showed my brother a photograph of Brian and Steve eating lunch in the hut. He remarked that they looked exhausted. I told him that was because they were as was the photographer, me. Later on I showed the same photograph to my dentist, a long time friend and an experienced backpacker. He remarked that I should never show that photograph to anyone from Amnesty International.

We had talked yesterday evening about which route to take toward the end of the day; the high road or the low road into Kirk Yetholm. This decision had to be made not too long after starting the down hill from the Schill and after crossing the stile into Scotland. Steve had voiced the opinion that he would be taking the higher road while Brian and I had spoken highly of the lower path. While at the refuge hut I read a part of the description of the higher or Border Ridge route. Specifically, I said the book stated the higher route “keeps to the Border Ridge to the very end, to wring the last drop of excitement and endurance from the great walk.” At that point we all agreed that we had had all the excitement and endurance we needed for one day and the vote for the lower way was unanimous.

From the fork in the path it was an easy stroll down to a parking area where Elizabeth and Jane were waiting for us. Connie had parked our car there but had taken off up the higher route. I could see her far up the slope of the hill. After a loud whistle from me she turned around and headed back. Elizabeth and Jane were to wait for her while we walkers kept on to Kirk Yetholm. Once there we walked in together to the village green, the end of the Pennine Way. The very small Band of Brothers had made it. Elizabeth and Jane were there to great Brian, Steve’s lady friend to great him and Connie, my sherpa and strong supporter, to meet me.

We all then went to the Border Hotel where Wainwright stood us a round. After we sat down, I proposed a toast and borrowing a bit from Henry V, I said

This story shall the backpacker teach his son;

And a day on The Way shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we who have walked it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

After the ale, Brian and I enjoyed a much appreciated glass of Highland Park whisky but Steve had to pass as he had the long drive to Stoke-on-Trent ahead of him. After cleaning up, it was dinner for Brian, Elizabeth, Jane, Connie and me, making it a great ending to a very hard day.

I did not sleep at all well this night; probably for the same reasons I had noted before about finishing a punishing day. There was certainly some emotional let down involved as well, knowing that I had finished walking the Pennine Way. One thing is certain, I was glad that I did not have to get up and walk the next day. I did go back to sleep in the morning and then Connie and I packed up and headed back to London, taking three days and flying out on September 23, 2004. 

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